Senior NHS doctors have demanded an 11 per cent pay rise as they take to picket lines for the third time this year.
Junior doctors will then stage a joint walkout with the senior medics tomorrow and continue their own action until 7am on Saturday.
While sick Brits have been told to use emergency care as normal, health chiefs have warned patients face ‘the highest level of risk in living memory’.
But Dr Vishal Sharma, chair of the British Medical Association’s (BMA) consultants’ committee, which is coordinating the action, this morning claimed a ‘save level of service’ would be provided.
Consultants walked out of hospitals at 7am this morning as part of a 48-hour strike and are providing a ‘ Christmas Day’ level of service – meaning routine appointments and operations set to be significantly disrupted. Pictured, consultant members of the BMA on the picket line outside University College London hospital in August
The BMA also said it had written to Prime Minister Rishi Sunak and health secretary Barclay outlining the ‘key asks’ needed to end the pay dispute.
In the letter sent to the Prime Minister yesterday, Dr Sharma said the BMA has always been clear that ‘strikes could be avoided if the Government was to present us with a credible offer that we could put to our members.’
Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme this morning, he also said rather than looking at legislation on minimum service levels, the Government should be ‘stopping strikes in the first place’.
He added: ‘This has happened because the NHS staff across across the whole sector are really demoralised, they’re really burnt out and they’ve been forced into taking strike action.’
He said consultants wanted an above-inflation pay award for this year, which in April was running about 11 per cent.
‘That’s a very similar amount to what was offered to doctors in Scotland and it shows it’s absolutely possible to actually do that, if there’s the right political will,’ he added.
Last week NHS bosses blamed medic strikes for heaping extra pressure onto already struggling hospitals — with 400,000 appointments rescheduled this summer due to walkouts.
Data showed around 7.68million patients in England — or one in seven people — were in the queue in July for procedures such hip and knee replacements.
The toll marks the highest figures logged since NHS records began in August 2007.
For comparison, around 4.4million were stuck in the system when the pandemic reached the UK.
But this morning Dr Sharma said the growing NHS waiting lists ‘have not been caused by the strikes’ and ‘were going up well before the pandemic’.
He said this had led to ‘huge pressure on the whole NHS workforce’, adding that ‘the consultant workforce is absolutely burnt out’ and struggling to recruit.
The NHS Confederation however, which represents all NHS organisations, said increasing numbers of patients, including cancer patients, are seeing their appointments rescheduled more than once due to strikes.
Matthew Taylor, chief executive of the organisation, said: ‘This is likely to be the biggest walkout the NHS has ever seen, will cause serious disruption, and put patients at the highest level of risk in living memory.
‘Leaders are concerned that this dangerous situation is being underestimated by the Government, telling us that this feels much different and more complex than previous strikes, with most reporting greater difficulties in rota planning and having to cancel huge numbers of elective operations and appointments in advance.
England’s backlog, for procedures like hip and knee replacements, now stands at 7.6million, official figures revealed last week. It means roughly one in seven people across the country are currently stuck in the system awaiting care. More than 380,000 patients have gone a year without being treated, often in agony
‘This is much worse than before as we’re now seeing patients who have already had an operation cancelled due to industrial action be hit again with a cancellation to their rescheduled appointment.
‘Leaders have also told us that this time round a higher number of operations and appointments for cancer patients are being cancelled, meaning that some of the very sickest patients may be suffering the most.’
It comes as Saffron Cordery, deputy chief executive of NHS Providers, also said this week’s strike action ‘can’t become the status quo’.
Ms Cordery told the Press Association: ‘We’re in uncharted territory. It’s all hands on deck in trusts across the country.’
She added that the proposed minimum service levels announced by the Government risk ‘worsening industrial relations at a time when we need Government and unions to get around the table and enter into talks to avert further escalation and disruption to patient care.
‘This legislation, as well as the consultation announced, doesn’t address any of the issues underlying current strike action, including dissatisfaction with pay and working conditions.’